Leonard Baskin and Ted Hughes: The Crow Dialogue
The Dark Mountain Blog has a recent piece by Matt Osmond entitled: ‘An Underswell Of Divination‘, and with a title like that how could I resist? Matt ruminates on the potent creative relationship between Ted Hughes and the artist Leonard Baskin,
a relationship that lasted the better part of two decades and produced several books. Their most famous and important collaboration was Crow, a sequence of poems written in the mid-1960’s when Hughes was still “processing” the suicide of his wife, Sylvia Plath.
What I hasn’t realised before was that the collaboration was more than just an illustration job for Baskin. Leonard had created a series of bird drawings that inspired Ted to write a loose narrative, which evolved as the initial idea fed on many of Ted’s obsessions (which can be summed up as life, death and resurrection – you know, the big stuff) and become something more substantial, with a resonance that has lasted down through the years. There’s no easy way of decoding what Ted was trying to say with Crow, and Baskin’s illustrations only “deepen the mystery” – as Francis Bacon insisted all art should.
Baskin’s work reminds me of Ralph Steadman, Marshall Arisman and Rick Bartow, all artists who’ve taken inspiration from the natural world, and I like his confidence and boldness of attack, which matches perfectly with Ted’s use of the English language. I’ve tried working in this vein myself over the years, but I’ve never been wholly satisfied with the results. It feels like cheating to me, as though I’ve not put enough blood, sweat and tears into it, but I respect and admire those who can and do work more like the wind blowing through the trees.
Here’s my portrait of Ted Hughes:
And here’s my mock-up cover for Crow:
Order a DVD copy of The Crow Dialogue here